Practical Use of the Revelation

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh
is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard
that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater
is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1Jn 4:3-4)

I. The primary practical object of the Apocalypse is to guide the Church victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The Bible opens with defeat; it ends with victory. At its outset, man fallen, Satan triumphant; at its close Satan conquered, all his world powers overthrown, and the redeemed with the Redeemer, crowned victorious, and glorified.

At the close of His earthly life, looking back over its temptations and conflicts, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” In the beginning of His risen life, exalted and endowed with “all power in heaven and in earth,” He went forth leading His Church, “conquering and to conquer.”

In His heaven sent messages to the Churches which He left as His witnesses on earth, all the inestimable rewards of His kingdom are promised “To him that overcometh.” In the prophetic visions which succeed these messages, tracing the gradual subjugation of all things to Christ, the conflicts, sufferings, and victories and final glories of Christ’s saintly followers are described. This is the theme of the prophecy, and its object is practical. It was a gift to the Church militant from Christ triumphant. The Son of God had overcome the world. The sons of God were now to overcome it. Faith was to make them victorious. They were to conquer their visible foes by faith in things invisible. All the powers of the world were to be arrayed against them. They were to be hated, persecuted, and hunted into dens and deserts, cast into dungeons and flames. Yet were they to conquer. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” Who spoke that triumphant word? A lonely exile; a persecuted and banished saint and apostle. And when? In the days of proud Domitian, master of the world; in the time of Pagan Rome’s supremacy.

How calmly he writes it in his letter of love to his “little children.” There is no flourish of trumpets; simply the clear note of victory. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast ordained strength, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” And so Christ led His Church to the battlefield. Calmly and unflinchingly He conducts them with open eyes into the deadly arena of their warfare. They are to fight with beasts in the Colosseum; to be driven into the darkness of the Catacombs; to die under the worst tortures pitiless Rome can inflict. They are later on to contend with worse enemies than heathen Rome. They are to fight with the powers of hell in the apostate Church which should succeed to the throne of the Caesars. The harlot Babylon was to be drunken with their blood; yet were they to overcome, and the victors were “to stand on the sea of glass mingled with fire, having the harps of God.” No music as lofty as theirs; no song more glad and glorious; followers of the Lamb, of Him who died on Calvary’s Cross, the Conqueror and Savior of the world. To nerve such warriors, to arm them for the battle, to conduct them to victory, the Revelation was written.

He who has not grasped this salient fact, has missed the meaning of the prophecy. Not to satisfy curiosity as to the future was this wondrous prophecy indicted; nor merely to close the sacred volume, to bind its several portions into unity as with a golden clasp, nor was it written to complete the book by shedding the glories of sunset, or rather of sunrise, over its concluding pages, to fill its last skies with splendor, with the light of the rising of a morning without clouds, the advent of a world where sin and sorrow and death can never come; not for these ends though doubtless they were contemplated, but for nobler purposes; to form the characters, guide the steps, maintain the faith, and inspire the courage of those who were to pass through flood and flame to that final world of glory and immortality; to make the saints and martyrs who were to share its triumphs and wear its crowns. And hence the glorious rewards promised in the seven letters to the Christian Churches with which it opens, letters purely practical in their object, are largely the theme of the succeeding prophecy. For in it the selfsame rewards are seen, and set forth in their most glowing colors, and in their true and proper relations, their place, and time, and circumstance, for the contemplation of the servants of Christ; that they may behold in advance the things promised, and the future world become as real to them as the present, as seen with the open eye of vision; so that the confessors might witness in the presence of Rome’s Caesars, standing the while in spirit before the throne of God; or tread their way amid the awful shadows of the Catacombs, as beholding the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. Yea to open heaven itself to the gaze and contemplation of God’s pilgrim people was this prophecy given; that their conversation, or “citizenship” might be there, even while they wandered as strangers amid earth’s transient and troubled scenes; and that while journeying or warring on earth, they might be seated in heaven, where Christ is seated “at the right hand of God.” And turning now to those practical letters which preface the Apocalypse, we review the promised rewards which are held forth “to him that overcometh.”

First, to the victors of the Church of Ephesus it is promised that they shall eat of “the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Behold then the promised tree of life in the visions of the prophecy, bearing twelve manner of fruits, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. See it there in its true location growing by the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, “proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Secondly, to the victors of the martyr Church of Smyrna the crown of life is promised; and the revealing spirit adds “he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” But what that second death, and for whom destined? The prophecy replies, “…the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whore-mongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” “Death and Hades” it tells us are to be finally “cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.”

To the Church of Thyatira the promise runs “to him that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. And I will give him the morning star.” In the prophecy the shivering of the nations as the vessels of a potter with a rod of iron is portrayed. A woman clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars brings forth “a man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.” The man child is caught up to God and to His throne, and the woman flees to the wilderness from the presence of the persecuting dragon. Later on the all-conquering “Word of God,” the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords, comes with the white robed armies of heaven,” “to judge and make war,” to “smite the nations with the sword of His mouth,” and “rule them with a rod of iron;” even He whose voice declares “I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”

To the Church of Sardis which had a name to live and was dead, the command “be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die,” is followed by the warning “if therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee,” and the promise “he that overcometh the same shall be clothed in white raiment and I will not blot out his name from the book of life.” In the prophecy the thing promised is beheld; the bride of the Lamb is seen in her purity and perfection “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” And at the final judgment “the book of life is opened;” while those who enter the New Jerusalem are only “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

To the Church of Philadelphia the encouraging promise is given, “him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” In the visions of the prophecy the New Jerusalem is seen “descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” Her walls, her gates, her streets, and her foundations are all described. Her beauty and her glory fill the bright closing vision. And of Him who is called “Faithful and True,” it is declared, “He had a name written that no man knew, but He Himself;” analogous with that secret name which He will yet write upon the victor’s brow.

To the degenerate Church of Laodicea, boasting herself “rich, and increased in goods, and needing nothing,” not knowing that she was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” after the gracious offer of tried gold, and white raiment, and healing eye salve Jesus declares His long-suffering love, and says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” promising to the individual soul that opens to Him the supper of His own personal and private fellowship: and promising further “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne.” And in the succeeding prophecy the glorious reward thus promised is beheld, for there are seen the victor saints enthroned with the Lord, first in His millennial kingdom, and then in His eternal reign.

These relations of the prophetic visions of the Apocalypse to the hortatory letters addressed in its opening pages to Christian Churches, reveal the practical character of the prophecy; and the important practical uses which the Church, under the Spirit’s guidance, has made of the prophecy during the last nineteen centuries is a confirmation of its intended adaptation to practical ends. For first, the Martyr Church of the second and third centuries armed herself for her conflict with heathen Rome with weapons drawn from the arsenal of the Apocalypse. To her heathen Rome, seated on her seven hills was the Apocalyptic Babylon, drunken with the blood of saints and martyrs. Every feature of Rome’s character and history she saw delineated in the prophecy, in bold outlines, and vivid colors, her place, her power, her wealth, her wickedness, her doom. And the martyrs of those days beheld the exact picture of their experience in the slain beneath the altar portrayed in the prophecy, whose blood called for vengeance; a vengeance delayed but to come at last when in Babylon, the smoke of whose judgment should go up forever, “the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon earth” should be found.

Secondly, on occasion of the fall of persecuting heathen Rome the early Church of the fourth century recognized the prediction of that great event in the vision of the Apocalypse, and celebrated it in the triumphant language of the prophecy, and commemorated it in symbols drawn from that sacred source. To the newly liberated exultant Church the fall of heathen Rome was none other than that represented by the casting down of the great red dragon, who had sought to devour the man child destined to rule all nations with a rod of iron. As predicted the victory had been that of Christ and His martyr followers. “They overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The triumphant song of the Church ascended in the Apocalyptic words “now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down which accused them before our God day and night.”

The coins of Constantine the Great bear witness to the use of the symbol of the dragon prostrate beneath the cross to commemorate the overthrow of the dominion of ancient heathen Rome.

Thirdly, the overthrow of the Roman Empire by Gothic invaders which followed, and especially the burning of the city of Rome by Alaric, in the year 410, led Augustine to write his noble book on “The city of God;” a book whose central conception is drawn from the Apocalypse, in which the two societies of the world, and of the people of God, are represented by the harlot city Babylon, and the Bride, the New Jerusalem. Augustine recognized Rome as Babylon, and devotes a large part of his work to the delineation of its character and history. On the other hand he dwells with loving appreciation on the past, present and future of the society of saints, “the city of God,” that city which has, unlike Rome, enduring foundations. The work of Augustine defended the Church, whose views it illustrates, from the accusation that it was the cause of the woes which had befallen the empire; and gave popularity and permanence to a conception of the relation of the society of the world to the society of saints, in striking harmony with the teachings of the Apocalypse.

II. The second great practical use of the Apocalypse lay in the aid which it rendered to the preservation of true Christianity:

From the extinction by which it was threatened in the Middle Ages. The Gothic overthrow of the Roman Empire was succeeded by the gradual rise in the sixth and following centuries of Papal Rome.

The wars and jurisprudence of Justinian in the sixth century laid the foundation of a new imperial power. The elevation of the Bishop of Rome, by Justinian and Phocas, to universal oversight in all the Christian Church, exalting the Pope to the position of the Spiritual Head of the restored empire, while the work of Charlemagne completed the movement by the creation of “the Holy Roman Empire” of medieval and modern history.

The empire thus restored became the support of apostate Papal Christianity, and the oppressor and persecutor of the true saints of God, whom it drove into obscurity, and reduced in the course of centuries to almost complete extermination.

Foreseen and foretold in apocalyptic prophecy the persecuting papal power, and idolatrous Romish Church became objects of dread and abhorrence to the faithful saints of the Middle Ages, who in their separate communities and mountain solitude kept the “commandments of God,” and continued the testimony of Jesus Christ. The records of the Albigenses, and Waldenses, of Wycliffe and the Lollards, of Huss, Jerome of Prague and their followers, amply attest the preserving influence of apocalyptic teachings during this perilous period. By means of this prophecy the lamp of divine truth was kept burning which later on was to illuminate the world. The historian Gibbon justly connects the Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses, and other pre-reformation separatists from the apostate Church in the East and West, with the reformers of the sixteenth century. The faith of the Reformation and pre-reformation reformers was one; their testimony was one, their attitude to the Bible was the same, and their martyrs suffered in a common cause. The reformation movement did not commence with Luther, nor was he the first to translate the Bible into the vernacular. The exalted Head of the Church had maintained an unbroken line of faithful witnesses to His Truth during all the Christian centuries, and had fulfilled His promise that against the Church which He had founded upon a rock, the “ gates of hell “ should never prevail.

III. The third great practical use of the Apocalypse lay in its justification and support of the Reformation:

By its delineation of the Church of Rome, and its command to the people of God to separate from that apostate Church, to republish the Scriptures, and to rebuild the Spiritual Temple, as the Jewish reformers Ezra and Nehemiah had restored the temple at Jerusalem after the Babylon captivity. Ample materials exist for the verification of these statements in the voluminous works of the Reformers of the sixteenth century. The reformation was built by them on doctrinal, practical, and prophetic grounds: there is no possibility of separating these elements in its foundation. To the Reformers the Pope of Rome was the “Man of Sin,” and Antichrist, and the Church of Rome the Babylon of the Apocalypse; a doctrine not only embodied in the confessions of faith of the reformed churches, but sealed by the blood of their countless martyrs. Who can estimate the value and importance of the aid thus rendered to the Reformation by the delineations and warnings of prophecy? Let the learned Bishop Wordsworth have a hearing on this subject, for no other has written upon it with clearer understanding, and in nobler and more eloquent language, “The Holy Spirit, foreseeing, no doubt, that the Church of Rome would adulterate the truth by many gross and grievous abominations, that she would anathematize all who would not communicate with her, and denounce them as cut off from the body of Christ and the hope of everlasting salvation; foreseeing also that Rome would exercise a wide and dominant sway for many generations, by boldly iterated assertions of unity, antiquity, sanctity, and universality; foreseeing also that these pretensions would be supported by the civil sword of many secular governments, among which the Roman Empire would be divided at its dissolution, and that Rome would thus be enabled to display herself to the world in an august attitude of imperial power, and with the dazzling splendor of temporal felicity; foreseeing also that the Church of Rome would captivate the imaginations of men by the fascinations of art allied with religion, and would ravish their senses and rivet their admiration by gaudy colors and stately pomp and prodigal magnificence; foreseeing also that she would beguile their credulity by miracles and mysteries, apparitions and dreams, trances and ecstasies, and would appeal to such evidences in support of her strange doctrines; foreseeing likewise that she would enslave men and (much more) women by practicing on their affections and by accommodating herself with dangerous pliancy to their weakness, relieving them from the burden of thought and from the perplexity of doubt by proffering them the aid of infallibility, soothing the sorrows of the mourner by dispensing pardon and promising peace to the departed, removing the load of guilt from the oppressed conscience by the ministries of the confessional and by nicely poised compensations for sin, and that she would flourish for many centuries in proud and prosperous impunity before her sins would reach to heaven and come in remembrance before God; foreseeing also that many generations of men would thus be tempted to fall from the faith and to become victims of deadly error, and that they who clung to the truth would be exposed to cozening flatteries and fierce assaults and savage tortures from her, the Holy Spirit, we say, foreseeing all these things in His divine knowledge, and being the everlasting Teacher, Guide, and Comforter of the Church, was graciously pleased to provide a heavenly antidote, for all these dangerous, wide-spread, and long-enduring evils, by dictating the Apocalypse. In this divine book the Spirit of God has portrayed the Church of Rome such as none but He could have foreseen that she would become, and such as, wonderful and lamentable to say, she has become. He has thus broken her magic spells; He has taken the wand of enchantment from her hand; He has lifted the mask from her face; and with His divine hand He has written her true character in large letters, and has planted her title on her forehead, to be seen and read of all: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

IV. The practical use of the Apocalypse in the present day as casting light upon the whole course of Christian history, revealing the plan of Providence, and confirming faith amid the assaults of modern skepticism.

“The Church of Christ in these last days,” says Professor Birks of Cambridge, “is exposed to strong temptation, from the spread of a secret and disguised infidelity. Many causes have conspired in promoting it, the long years which have passed since the first preaching of the gospel, the superstition of the middle ages, the religious feuds of later times, the progress of physical science, with the consequent occupation of men’s thoughts, more than ever, about sensible and outward things, and the widening intercourse with all the various creeds of the whole earth. Hence the faith of real Christians has often been severely sifted, and that of many others entirely undermined. A vague loose form of skepticism has crept in, and become fashionable, which does not care openly to discard Christianity, but is content to reduce it to the rank of uncertain opinion, a harmless and even beautiful form of the religious sentiment; while it denies the binding authority of its message, and treats the word of God with a hollow politeness, or perhaps with scornful indifference.

“At such a time we need to use every help which God has given us to expose this fearful evil. One of the chief of these is the word of prophecy. For here the Almighty Himself withdraws the veil that we may see His hand clearly at work amidst all the changes of time, and discover the seal of His own prescience, whereby His word is stamped with a divine authority. Once let its truths enter our minds and infidelity can have no place within us. The history of our world becomes bright with the very sunshine of heaven. Where all before seemed to be disorder and darkness we can now discover light, love, order, and beauty. The gulf which appeared to separate us from the times of the gospel, and the personal history of our Lord, is bridged over; and the meanest events that are now passing around us are seen to be links in one mighty chain of Providence, which reaches from a past eternity, and loses itself in an eternity yet to come. The Church of Christ does well in taking heed to this word of prophecy, until Christ Himself, the true Day-star shall return to scatter the darkness. Amidst all the dimness of earthly hopes and human fancies, it is this holy light which alone can reveal the mysteries of divine Providence, while it leads our thoughts onward to the glory which shall be revealed.”

We occupy today, a more advanced position than has ever been previously reached in the course of the five kingdoms of history and prophecy, a position from which we can trace with clearer light and fuller knowledge than that possessed by those who have gone before us, the plan of Providence directing the development and decline of human governments, and the rise and establishment of the kingdom of God. Standing as we do at the close of the fourth, or Roman kingdom of the visions of Daniel and the Apocalypse, we behold the fulfillment of their predictions as to the four kingdoms, and especially as to the last, in its pagan and papal stages, the long course of its anti-Christian and persecuting action, and the outpouring of the vials of God’s wrath by which its destruction is being accomplished. We trace the fall of the western and eastern divisions of the Roman empire, under Gothic, Saracen and Turkish invasions; the rise of the Papal and Mohammedan apostasies, their dominion and decline; the fall of the Papal temporal power at the date so long foretold, and the parallel wasting away of Turkey, and subjection throughout the world of Mohammedan countries to Christian rule, together with the rise of the Jewish race to their national reconstitution, and restoration to the land of their fathers.

In all these mighty movements, with their world-wide effects, we can clearly see the fulfillment of the sure word of prophecy, the actual realization in the history of the past, and in present events, of the course of things predicted thousands of years ago in the writings of holy apostles and prophets contained in the scriptures. Our faith in the inspiration of the Bible is thus confirmed; the ceaseless assaults of skepticism are resisted and repelled as the foaming waves of the sea by the lofty rocks against which they hurl themselves in vain; and the very oppositions of unbelief, of skepticism, naturalism and materialism, as foretold in prophecy among the salient characteristics of the closing days of the present dispensation, confirm our faith in the Word of God, which has forewarned and forearmed us against these attacks.

In the “divinely pictured visions of the Apocalypse,” as Elliott has admirably shown, the philosophy of the history of Christendom is set before us, “the chief eras and vicissitudes of the Roman Pagan Empire,” and “the sketch of the Christian body such as it would present itself to the all-seeing eye of God’s spirit,” the sealing of an elect number out of the professing, church, or mystic Israel, and the subsequent “fortunes and histories of Christendom and the church distinctly in two different lines of succession: one, the visible professing and more and more anti-Christian church; the other, no visible corporate Christian body, but Christ’s own real church, the out gathering and election of grace, individually chosen, enlightened, quickened, and sealed by Him with the holy spirit of adoption; a body notable as “God’s servants” for holy obedience; and though few in number as compared with the apostate professors of Christianity, yet in God’s eye numerically perfect and complete. Thenceforward the prophecy traced them in their two distinct lines of succession, through their respective fortunes and histories down even to the consummation. On the one hand there was depicted the body of false professors, multiplied so as to form the main and dominant constituency of apostate Christendom, as developing more and more a religion not Christian but anti-Christian, it being based on human traditions, not on God’s word: and, after falling away to the worship of departed saints and martyrs as mediators, in place of Christ, as alike in its western and eastern division, judicially visited and desolated by the divine avenging judgments of emblematic tempests, scorpion-locusts, and horsemen from the Euphrates: in other words, of the Goths, Saracens, and Turks: then as in its western division, rising up again from the primary desolating judgment of Gothic invasion, in the new form of an ecclesiastical empire, enthroned on the seven hills of ancient Rome: its secret contriver being the very Dragon or Satanic spirit, that had ruled openly before in the Pagan empire; its ruling head proud, persecuting, blasphemous, and self-exalting against God, even beyond his pagan precursors; its constituency and priesthood characterized by “unrepented idolatries, and fornications, thefts, murders, and sorceries:” in fine as continuing unchanged, unchangeable in its apostasy, notwithstanding the repeated checks of woes and judgments from heaven, even until the end; and therefore then at length in its impenitence to be utterly abandoned to judgment, and, like another Sodom, made an example of the vengeance of everlasting fire: this being in fact the grand essential preliminary to the world’s intended and blessed regeneration.

“On the other hand, with regard to Christ’s true Church, the election of grace, consisting of such as should hold to Christ as their head, and keep the word of God, and testimony of Jesus, the Apocalyptic prophecy represented them as almost at once entering on a great and long tribulation; yet though in number few and fewer, and reduced soon to a state spiritually destitute and desolate, like that of the wilderness, so as to constitute them a church invisible rather than visible, as still secretly preserved by their Lord; … and then as witnesses for Christ’s cause and truth made war on by Rome’s revived empire, as by a beast from the abyss of hell; and so being at length conquered and apparently exterminated: yet suddenly revived and exalted in the presence of their enemies; a revelation from heaven of Christ as the Sun of righteousness introducing and accompanying this glorious revival of God’s slaughtered witnesses; and “a political revolution attending, or following, under which the tenth part of the ten-kingdom ecclesiastical empire would fall. All this the prophecy figured as the result of God’s second great intervention for His Church;” and “fulfilled in the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, the discovery introducing it of the doctrine of justification simply by faith in Christ Jesus; and the downfall following it of the tenth part of the Popedom in Papal England. Thus the Protestant Reformation is distinctly figured in the Apocalypse as a glorious divine act.” “As to the subsequent indifference in religion, which followed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was not unforeseen in the further developments of the Apocalypse. Yet it seemed also pre-intimated how, as if from some gracious revival of religion in God’s still favored Protestantism, there would afterwards speed forth in the latter times three missionary angels, flying through mid-heaven, with voices of faithful gospel-preaching throughout the length and breadth of the world, of warning against Papal Rome, and denunciation of its quickly coming judgment: a contemporary energetic revival and going forth of the spirit of Popery, conjunctively with other kindred and allied spirits of Pagan-like infidelity, and pseudo-Christian priest-craft, being but the last putting forth of its bravery, to hasten the final crisis, and constitute the precursive and justification of its fall: acts these that would be nearly the last public ones promoted, or mingled in, by the little body of Christ’s faithful ones on earth. For it was fore-shown how that Christ’s advent would speedily follow; and contemporarily therewith, and with the mystic Babylon’s destruction by fire, His witnessing saints and all that fear Him, small and great, have the reward given them of an entrance into the everlasting kingdom of their Lord; and that so, and then (not before, or otherwise), the promised regeneration of all things, the Christian’s great object of hope, should have its accomplishment, in Christ’s own reign with His saints; and therewith, at length, the true and only complete evangelization of the world.

“Such is the apocalyptic moral philosophy of the history of Christendom, its rule of faith not tradition, but the Bible; its Church of the promises that alone of true believers in Jesus; and God’s glory in Christ the grand and final object ever set forth in it.”[1]

In the foregoing view there is a consistency with the Apocalyptic figuration, and the actual history of the Christian Church which cannot fail to deeply impress, those whose minds have not been blinded by prejudice, or warped by erroneous conceptions as to the subject of Apocalyptic prophecy, and the philosophy of Christian history. For the Apocalypse is manifestly “the story of Christ’s kingdom;” its faithful and suffering saints are none other than those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”(ch.12:17), who overcome in their warfare with the satanically ruled world power “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and loved not their lives unto the death” (v.11), those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (ch.14:12), those who are “the martyrs of Jesus” (ch.17:6), those who are “called, and chosen, and faithful” (ch.17:14), those whom God calls “My people” (ch.18:4), those who “have the testimony of Jesus” (ch.19:10), those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God” (ch.20). They form “a great multitude, which no man could number; of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” they ascribe their “salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb”; they have come “out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb;” they are the “palm bearing” multitude before the throne (ch.7:9) the victors who “sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (ch.15:3), the hundred and forty-four thousand who stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion, “having His Father’s name written in their foreheads,” who “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,” who were “redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb” (ch.14:1-4).

They are the “blessed” who “are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (ch.19:9), the “blessed and holy” persons who “have part in the first resurrection,” on whom “the second death hath no power,” “priests of God and of Christ” who “reign with Him a thousand years” (ch.20), and later on “reign forever and ever” (ch.22:5). They are the citizens of “the holy Jerusalem,” who constitute “the bride the Lamb’s wife,” a city which is yet to “descend out of heaven from God,” “having the glory of God” (ch.21); in which city the saints of the Seven Churches addressed in the opening Epistles of the prophecy have their part, and receive their reward, for on them Christ promises to “write the name of the city of My God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God” (ch.3:12), the saints to whom He promises that they shall “sit with Him on His throne,” when He comes in the glory of His kingdom (ch.3:21).

The Apocalypse describes the double conflict or warfare of these saints and martyrs of Jesus, first their conflict with Pagan Rome (ch.12), and then with Papal Rome (ch.11, 13, 17), first the warfare in which they overcome, and secondly the warfare in which they are overcome, and utterly silenced, but from which slain condition they rise, and are exalted to power, in manifest analogy to the experience of their Lord, the Lamb, who had been slain, and raised and exalted to the right hand of God. These in the dark ages were His faithful “witnesses,” the Church hidden in the wilderness,” like the prophet Elijah in the days of the Baal apostasy of Israel.

And these in the glorious Reformation, the age of “the little book, open,” of the restored Word of God, were they who took “the little book” from the hand of the Angel of the Everlasting Covenant, whose face was as the sun, and fed upon it like the prophet Ezekiel, and then in the power of its teachings “prophesied again, before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (ch.10).

Do we not recognize in all this the Church of Jesus Christ? Are we not acquainted with her history? Or do we conceive of that Church as reigning in the world over subject kings and nations, clothed in glory and magnificence, arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls? By which figure is the true Church of Christ represented in the Apocalypse, by the woman who is clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, who is forced to flee into the wilderness, and to remain hidden there during the period of the dominion of the Roman Beast power? (Rev.12, 13), or by the woman seated upon the beast, reigning over peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues? (ch.17). If the latter be to us the figure of the Church of Christ then have we confounded the Bride of the Lamb, with the Harlot Babylon, A fatal error too common in our days.

But if on the other hand we recognize in the suffering hidden Church of the Apocalypse the figure of the true spiritual Church of Christ in this dispensation, analogous with the faithful hidden Israel of Jewish history, who had never bowed the knee to Baal, how confirmatory to faith becomes the marvelous apocalyptic anticipation of the course of Christian history! How clearly we behold the evidence of divine inspiration in the prophecy, for by no mere human wisdom could the strange and checkered history of the Church, its apostasy, its contrast, its conflict, and its victories, have been foreseen; yet here is all the story told in advance, the events described long before they came to pass, sketched with masterly power, drawn in striking colors, ineffaceable by time, portrayed not only with fidelity, but with an insight into their deepest meaning most manifestly divine. And every century by its fresh fulfillment has only added to the evidence of that inspiration, while the events of the present, as they unfold before our eyes, still further confirm it. Upon “the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture” then we take our stand, nor fear the assaults of modern skepticism; our faith in the Bible as the Word of God, confirmed and deepened, assured that while “heaven and earth shall pass away,” the word of the Lord as contained in that sacred volume shall abide as living and life-giving truth forever.

V. The use of the Apocalypse in setting and keeping before the Church from age to age the ever brightening hope of the Coming and Kingdom of Christ.

The ongoing marvelous fulfillment of prophecy having taken place, confirming our faith, and indicating our advanced position in the revealed course of the present dispensation, we have but to follow the further delineations of the prophecy in order to perceive the character of the events which lie before us, in the ever advancing development of the Kingdom of God.

On inquiring the nature of the leading event which is to mark the termination of the present age we are directed by the sure word of prophecy to expect that “the stone cut out without hands” is to strike the iron mingled with clay feet of the Daniel 2 Image with destructive force, to dash the entire image to dust which the winds of heaven will sweep away, and then to grow to a great mountain, and fill the whole earth: in other words, as the prophecy explains, that in the closing days of the divided and weakened Roman Empire, the last of the four Gentile kingdoms, a destructive revolution shall take place, a manifestation of divine judgment, in which the antagonistic kingdoms of this world shall be overthrown and swept away; and that upon the accomplishment of this event the kingdom of God shall pass from its present initial stage to its further millennial stage, and become a universal kingdom, filling the whole earth with its presence. Exactly how this great change shall be accomplished is not clearly revealed in these earlier prophecies.

The coming of “the Ancient of Days,” is spoken of, and the “giving of judgment to the Saints of the Most High” (Dan.7:22), at the close of the “three and a half times,” or 1,260 years of the dominion of the persecuting, self-exalting “little horn,” or Papal power; when “the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end;” a judgment in which because of “the great words which the horn spake, the beast was slain, and his body destroyed and given to the burning flame.” Apparently this event takes place when “the Ancient of Days” sits on the fiery throne of final judgment, while “thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him,” for then “the judgment was set, and the books opened;” but a comparison of this earlier and briefer prophecy with the more detailed predictions in the Apocalypse reveals the fact that the fourth empire, that of Rome, with its persecuting Papal head, is overthrown under the judgments of the seven vials; and that the advent of Christ in judgment, accompanied by His saints, has more than one stage, for a period of a thousand years is to separate between His revelation “to tread the wine-press of the wrath of God” as described in Rev.19, and His coming on His great white throne to judge “the dead small and great,” out of the things “written in the books,” described in Rev.20. The recurrence of the remarkable expression “the books were opened” in Dan.7:10, and Rev.20:12, links together these two descriptions of the final judgment, as relating to the same event; but while the judgment of Rev.20:12 is certainly post-millennial, the destruction of “the Beast,” or persecuting Roman power is, according to Rev.19:20 a pre-millennial event; indicating the conclusion that the judgment described in Dan.7 includes both the pre and post-millennial stages of the judgment of “the Beast,” and of “the dead small and great,” more fully portrayed in the Apocalyptic prophecy.

The existence of these stages in the divine judgment will cause no surprise when we reflect on the character of the present and millennial dispensations taken as a whole; for as Jonathan Edwards has shown in his, History of Redemption, the whole period from the ascension and enthronement of Christ to His final coming to judge “the dead small and great,” is characterized by the taking down and removing of antagonistic world powers, one after the other, until every foe is placed in subjection beneath His feet. The mighty work of subjugation is not accomplished by a single act, but by a succession of acts; acts figured under the seals, trumpets, and vials of the Apocalypse. Many of these acts have already been accomplished, while others remain to be fulfilled. Among the former no less than six of the “vials” of the judgment of the seventh trumpet, or “last woe,” have been poured forth, while the outpouring of the seventh vial, if not already begun, is manifestly close at hand.

In considering the events of the seventh trumpet era as including those which are now transpiring around us, we should take into account the important fact that the seventh trumpet has a double character, as being both a “woe” trumpet, and a “jubilee” trumpet. It is distinctly stated to be a “woe” trumpet in Rev.8:13, and 11:14. On the other hand it is most certainly a jubilee trumpet, for on its sounding the joyful proclamation is made, “The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” Now it is a matter of the profoundest interest that we can plainly trace in the events which have taken place since the middle of the eighteenth century these two features of the predicted seventh trumpet era. On the one hand we behold the accomplishment of the foretold judgments of the vials, as out-poured on Western and Eastern Christendom; and on the other hand we can as plainly see the rising up of a new and better order of things, preparing the way for the promised “gathering together in one of all things” in “the fullness of times,” under the headship of Christ (Eph.1:10). The recognition of these two opposite movements in the present day is not an easy attainment. Those who see the one are apt to ignore or deny the other. Hence while some are pessimists others are optimists, in the interpretation they attach to contemporaneous events. But time corrects such partial views, and with added years, and widened observation, we come to occupy a position midway between these opposite extremes. “Are you a pessimist?” said one to the late Dr. A. J. Gordon of Boston. “No,” said he, “I am not.” “Are you then an optimist?” asked the interrogator. “No,” he answered, “I am not.” “What then are you?” he was asked. “I am a truthist” he replied.

If I may be permitted to refer to my own experience as a student of prophecy for more than forty years, I can distinctly trace two stages in the development of my views, in which the downward and upward movements of the age, successively occupied my attention. Briefly to narrate the facts I may say that when evangelizing in France before the outbreak of the Franco-German war of 1870, I saw everywhere around me the prevalence of Romanism and infidelity. Visits to Spain and Italy only extended the view of this sad state of things, while growing acquaintance with Germany showed the reign of Rationalism in a country which had taken a leading part in the reformation of the sixteenth century. In all these lands there still existed a small body of evangelical Christians, but they were inconspicuous compared to the mass of the population under the sway of Romish or Rationalistic errors. By the Vatican Council of 1870 which decreed the Pope of Rome to be “The Infallible Teacher of Faith and Morals,” the errors and superstitions of the Church of Rome were practically declared to be “irreformable.” Nothing then awaited that apostate church but the destruction foretold in such solemn and terrific terms by the Apocalypse; a church which boasted that it embraced in its communion no less than two hundred millions of the professing Church of Christ, and indeed exalted itself as the true and only Church of Christ on earth.

The more I pondered the present condition of the Church of Rome, the revival and spread of Neo-Romanism in the form of Ritualism, and the widespread prevalence of skepticism and infidelity, the more I became conscious of the operation of a vast downward movement affecting the larger part of the professing Christian Church, like the slow retreat of the tides, or the gradual darkening of the heavens at the close of day. The growing infidelity of the age especially impressed me, its tendency to naturalism, and even agnosticism. “With the progress,” as I wrote, “of rationalism there is a growth of radicalism and nihilism, and the destruction of religious faith threatens to involve on a more or less extended scale the destruction of civil order, and common morality.”

The view thus given of the condition of Christendom, while harmonizing with many of the prophetic forecasts relating to the period, was far from encouraging. The prospect seemed to darken, and to point to the proximity of the day to which our Lord referred when He asked the question, “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?”

During the thirty-five years which have followed the fall of the Papal temporal power in 1870 I have become practically engaged in missionary work in many parts of the world. In the prosecution of that work it has been my lot to travel in America, Africa, India, China, and Japan; and in these regions I have seen the wonderful spectacle of a new world rising up, like some vast continent emerging from the depths of the ocean. Extending my study of the movement it became evident that this new world had been rising up for the last three or four hundred years, but especially since the Puritan colonization of America in the seventeenth century. The growth of civil and religious liberty, the marvelous progress of science, the extension of the British empire, the rise of the United States, of United Germany, of United Italy, the political regeneration of India, the exploration and uplifting of Africa, the opening and evangelization of China, the amazing progress of Japan, the ever increasing approximation of all peoples by steam and electric communication, the rapid spread of education, the multiplication and extension of Christian missions, all were evident features of a world movement, analogous to, though far surpassing that in the history of Greece and Rome which preceded the advent of the Christian religion, and prepared its way; or like the terrestrial changes which prepared the world for the appearance of man; the dawn of light, the retreat of the submerging waters, the clearing of the sky, the rise of islands and continents, and the clothing of the waste and desolate places with the wonders of vegetable and animal life.

On considering these two contrasted world movements several broad facts as to their nature, causes and tendencies became apparent.

First, considering their history in the past, and the forces from which they spring, the inveterate tendency in fallen man to depart from the living God, and the law of progress, both natural and spiritual, under which we are placed, it became evident that both these movements, the downward and the upward, will continue to operate in the future; a conclusion which harmonizes with the teachings of prophecy.

Second, that the two movements differ profoundly in this respect, that whereas the downward world movement has its fixed limits, the upward movement belongs to a divine order of things which is in its nature enduring and eternal.

Third, that according to the sure word of prophecy including the witness of the prophetic times, the limit of the downward world movement lies in the proximate future.

Fourth, that the arrest of the great apostasy will be effected by the manifestation of Christ in the judgment described in Rev.19, under the figure of His coming forth from heaven to “tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”

This article is adapted from H G Guinness book, History Unveiling Prophecy

[1] Elliott, Horae, IV, p. 250-255.

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